Fellowship as Social Capital
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This thesis is an exploration of strain, its sources, its manifestation, and how individuals cope with it. The particular scenario under investigation is that of Christian university students in a secular academic environment. Using Agnew’s general strain theory, Goffman’s theory of discreditable stigma, subcultural theory, and recent advances in the study of social capital, the strain experienced by Christian students in a secular university atmosphere was explored. Ethnographic content analysis of on-campus Christian groups, participant observation and semi-structured interviews of 43 Christian university students were used to investigate four postulates: 1. Christian students experience strain as a result of their religiosity on a secular campus; 2. This strain manifests as a discreditable stigma; 3. This strain results in Christian students becoming members of on-campus Christian groups (seeking a subculture); and 4. Memberships in Christian groups provide access to support through social capital. There was evidence to support postulates 1, 2, and 4, while postulate 3 was not supported by the data collected. Strain theory proved to be a useful concept for understanding how Christian students interacted with their secular environment. The data suggest that the university atmosphere was challenging to their beliefs both inside and outside the classroom. Christian students also indicated that they often censored themselves in front of their colleagues and peers and did not feel comfortable disclosing their Christian beliefs to new friends. The reason given for this was more time was needed in order to quell certain negative assumptions and stereotypes that non-Christians may have about Christians. This description is suggestive of Goffman’s concept of discreditable stigma, in that stigmatized persons attempt to “pass” so that their stigma (Christianity in this case) will not prejudice current and future encounters. Students did not join Christian groups as a way to cope with the strain they felt within academia, as many students joined these groups upon entry into university (rather than joining after encountering strain). It was found that students experienced benefits from membership within Christian groups, demonstrating the utility of social capital (i.e., network of support) as a conceptual framework.